A Personal History of Sheikh Jarrah and Arab Violence Against Jews
As the Sheikh Jarrah case awaits the court’s decision, many voices can be heard asserting that Israeli Jews are “colonizing” this Jerusalem neighborhood, and that Israel is trying to “Judaize” Jerusalem. My family’s history undermines these claims, and suggests that the accusations are just another attempt to eradicate the history of a Jewish community.
My mom, Miriam, was born in 1921 in the Shimon Ha’Tzadik neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrakh.
The Jewish presence in Sheikh Jarrah centered on the tomb of Shimon HaTzadik, who met with Alexander the Great and convinced him not to destroy the Second Temple. In 1876, the cave and adjoining land, planted with 80 ancient olive trees, were purchased by Jews for 15,000 francs.
Dozens of Jewish families built homes on the property. The Turkish Ottoman census of 1905 counted 97 Jewish families living there. In spite of the so-called “Arab revolt” of the 1930s, when some Jewish families were uprooted, it remained a Jewish neighborhood until 1948, when the Jewish residents were driven out by the Jordanian army, and their homes were occupied by Arabs.
Since the 1880s, when Jerusalem was a majority Jewish city (going back to the 1848 Ottoman Turk census), terror and threats were a part of Jewish life.
My mom’s mother, Sarah, was a teenager in 1911, when her father, Chaim Eisenbach, saved the life of Rabbi Rachmastrivka at the Western Wall, by shielding his bloodied body from Arab attackers. He walked with a limp thereafter, and Sarah never recovered from seeing this fearless and devoted man beaten to a pulp.
Sarah married my grandfather, Simon Gotlieb, and moved to Shimon Ha’Tzadik in 1919. Simon’s family could be traced back to the Shlah HaKadosh, who arrived in Palestine in 1621. My mom’s parents were terrified by marauding mobs of Arabs in various Jerusalem neighborhoods, and they were driven out of Jerusalem in 1927 to escape from anti-Jewish violence. The rest of my mom’s family remained in Jerusalem.
Coincidentally, my wife Batya was also born in Shimon Hatzadik. Batya remembers how — as a little girl — her dad, Professor Chaim Gevaryahu, shielded her with old mattresses as the roof of their home was blown off by Jordanian shells.
The Shimon Hatzadik Jewish families fled to other Jerusalem neighborhoods, and Arabs occupied the Jewish homes. Batya was unable to visit her birthplace until after the Six-Day War in 1967.
In 1970, the Law on Legal and Administrative Affairs in Israel was enacted, which stipulated that Jews could reclaim their lost property that was seized by the Jordanians. Legal battles began over Sheikh Jarrah land ownership.
In 1972, the Sephardic Committee and the Knesset Committee of Israel claimed that in 1885 they purchased the land and built houses in Shimon Hatzadik.
In 1976, the court agreed, and filed eviction notices. In 1982, Israel’s Supreme Court affirmed the Jewish land ownership. In 1987, another court recognized Jewish ownership on the western side of the Nablus Road, and defined the Arabs as protected tenants.
In 1991, Jewish ownership was agreed to, and the Arab residents were granted a tenant status — provided rent was paid — until September 30, 2009, when the homes would revert back to their Jewish owners. In 2001, Israeli Jews moved into a section of Shimon Hatzadik. An Arab using title deeds issued by the Ottoman Empire filed a lawsuit to prove his ownership. In 2005, the court ruled the documents were forged, and an appeal in the following year was rejected. Despite the ruling, the Jewish owners could not take action since the Arabs immediately appealed to the Supreme Court.
Four years later, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal. In 2009, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that the Arab tenants should be evicted for rent non-payment in Sheikh Jarrah, and Jewish families moved into two homes. Thereafter, Sheikh Jarrah activists organized protests of the Jewish “takeover.”
On February 15, 2021, Arab appeals were rejected and eviction orders were issued to be carried out by May 2. The Israel Supreme Court affirmed the decision.
Arab and Jewish activists held daily protests that spilled over to other parts of Jerusalem. Activists called on international leaders to pressure Israel to end the “ongoing Nakba” in Sheikh Jarrah. In April, the International Criminal Court started to investigate Israel for war crimes, including the forced displacement of Arabs from East Jerusalem.
Now, after the recent fighting, Attorney-General Mandelblit has until June 8 to submit his opinion on the matter.
My family’s history and that of many Jews with deep ownership roots in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood undermines Arab claims that Israel is “Judaizing” Jerusalem — and exposes yet another attempt to eradicate the history of a Jewish community.
Implacable foes of Israel will not soon disappear, but fortunately, some of Israel’s neighbors, such as the UAE and Bahrain, recently entered into the Abraham Accords. In spite of recent violence, we can be cautiously optimistic that we are on the threshold of a new era of regional peace and prosperity.
Dr. Michael Wise is a founder and investor in numerous technology companies. He is a graduate of YU and holds a PhD .in Theoretical Physics from Brandeis U., is the author of Israel demography study (BESA).and has published numerous articles about Israel sovereignty and demographics in Judea and Samaria.